Five businesses are packing up and leaving downtown Freeport – nothing unusual for this time of year, business leaders in town say.

“It goes from being insane to being just dead quiet,” Stephanie Petkers, executive director of the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce, said of the slow season that follows the brisk holiday shopping season.

Some of the closed businesses, such as the big, highly visible Cool as a Moose T-shirt and gift shop at 112 Main St., have had a presence in Freeport for quite some time. Cool as a Moose will concentrate on its Brunswick business, Petkers said.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Maine Artisan Co-op, at 178 Lower Main St., in back of Wilbur’s Chocolate Factory, was in business for less than a year. Edgecomb Potters on School Street, The Children’s Place Outlet on Main Street and Summer Shades on Bow Street are also closing.

Keith McBride, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., takes the news of businesses leaving in stride.

“Five is a little high, but this is the season,” McBride said. “Businesses, especially in retail, try to hang in for the Christmas season. Then they figure, ‘Why hang around for the slow time?’”

Cool as a Moose had been a fixture in the center of downtown Freeport for 12 years, according to Emily Cromwell, manager of the company’s Brunswick store at 128 Maine St. Cromwell said the company was simply looking to consolidate its operations. Cool as a Moose made no layoffs, offering employees jobs in its Brunswick and Portland stores, she said.

“We may be back to Freeport some day,” Cromwell said. “We’re still members of the (Greater Freeport) Chamber of Commerce. Freeport’s done very well by us. The Brunswick location is beautiful, and people can see the T-shirts printed downstairs.”

While five businesses are leaving town, a host of new businesses arrived in Freeport in the past year, and more are on the way. The Lobster Cooker will make a return appearance at 39 Main St., with a sports bar to be located upstairs, according to Petkers.

Coastal Maine Popcorn and Sashay’s women’s boutique opened up shops on Main Street last summer. The Walking Company shoe store replaced the old J.L. Coombs on Bow Street, Stirling and Mull opened a restaurant on Lower Main Street, Maine Wicked Goods went into business on Route 1 South and Just For You jewelry store opened up on Grove Street. More recently, Weft & Warp, which sells chefs aprons, knife rolls and leather goods, opened last month on School Street.

“Freeport is such a popular destination that businesses are still interested in coming here and there’s a lot of resources to help them get started and be successful all year long,” Petkers said.

The Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce itself, rendered leaner by the departure of Carolyn Krahan, the director of member services, is charting a new course to help members.

“We’ll be going in a different direction,” Petkers said. “Members want more education on how to grow their businesses, find good employees and work with social media. They’re asking us to be a resource to them.”

To that end, the chamber will partner with David Watts, the director of RSU 5 Community Programs – formerly called RSU 5 Recreation & Community Education – on its next Business To Business Expo, scheduled for April 19 at the Hilton Garden Inn. The Southern Midcoast Chamber of Commerce will join in. Seminars at the expo will be geared toward helping businesses learn how to become more successful.

“We’re changing the focus to education and on partnerships with other organizations within the community, and the third one is health awareness,” Petkers said.

Before the expo, the chamber and FreeportUSA, the organization that markets Freeport as a national shopping and lodging destination, will collaborate on a seminar at Nordica Theater, Feb. 1, from 8:30-10 a.m. Officials from Portland Metro will talk about the plans to bring passenger bus service to town this summer,

Parking and parking accessibility in the downtown will be the subject of a “Talk Tuesday” event, scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 9 at the chamber office, located on the second floor of the Freeport Community Center.

Petkers said a tighter ship will help move the chamber forward. With Krahn gone, Petkers has the help of Michelle Fougere, office administrator, and volunteers.

“I don’t think that we’re going to replace the position,” Petkers said. “We’re looking at some software that might enable us to manage a service organization better. We have to. We run very lean anyway. We are just focusing on being as efficient as we can.”

The annual Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce banquet is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 29 at the Hilton Garden Inn, from 5-9 p.m.

Stephanie Petkers will run a tighter ship this year as executive director of the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce.


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